Heather Britt was stunned.
Victoria Morgan, Cincinnati Ballet artistic director, had just asked her to choreograph a ballet.
"I was shocked," says Britt, up to that point best-known as the
local guru of Rhythm & Motion, a wildly popular movement/exercise
Britt had created dances before, but she thought of them as minor
undertakings, requirements of her job as a dance teacher. What Morgan
was proposing, though, required a real choreographer. In Britt's eyes,
that was not her.
"What she was talking about was completely different," says Britt.
After all, she had abandoned ballet. She was a modern dancer now and the
queen of the local dance/fitness scene.
"I had never worked with dancers . . . with this much ability,"
says Britt, 38, a graduate of Cincinnati's School for Creative and
Performing Arts. "I wasn't really sure if I was the right person."
That was 2009.
Today, Britt is arguably the area's most sought-after
choreographer. She created choreography for an Ohio Lottery Commission
commercial and for Playhouse in the Park. She's done two pieces for
concert:nova, the area's edgiest chamber music group. She's
choreographed several flash mobs, seemingly impromptu dances that unfold
in public spaces. One was commissioned in 2009 by the Fine Arts Fund
(now ArtsWave) to kick off its annual campaign on Fountain Square. (You
can watch "Splash Dance," as it was nicknamed, at
. Britt is the blonde in the striped
shirt who starts the dance.)
She's in demand for more than her choreography, too. She teaches
dance at Downtown Arts, has become a member of the faculty of Northern
Kentucky University's department of Theatre and Dance and was invited to
be part of the YWCA's Rising Star Program for young and promising
"It's been such a whirlwind," says Britt. And there's no sign of it stopping.
ON TO POETRY
She's creating her third piece for the Cincinnati Ballet's annual season-opening program, "New Works."
But this time Morgan, who has become something of a mentor to
Britt, has given her a greater challenge. Rather than choreograph to
music, she's asked her to work with the poetry of Tonya Matthews.
Matthews, vice-president of museums at the Cincinnati Museum Center, is
known as Ja Hipster in the world of poetry slams.
"This is really complicated for me," says Britt. "When I start a
dance, I begin by looking for music. It's the music that inspires me."
Poetry is different, especially Matthews' poetry. Philosophically,
Britt and Matthews are in sync. But the poetry that Matthews has shared
with Britt tells stories filled with specific images. Britt considers
herself a storyteller, too, but it's more impressionistic than literal.
"That's exactly why I asked Heather," says Morgan. "It's a
challenge for her, a chance to grow and to learn more about herself as a
choreographer. In her Rhythm & Motion classes, Heather has a way of
convincing people that anything is possible. I guess I wanted to ask
her to do something outside her comfort zone and convince her that
anything was possible for her, too.
Working with Tonya should be great for both of them. Both of them are very smart and connected to the community."
That, of course, is the point of "New Works," giving choreographers,
dancers, even the audience, an opportunity to take a chance, to
experience new concepts, to play "what if."
TAKING A CHANCE
Britt says she's still nervous and uncertain when she begins a project,
but chance-taking has always been something that defined her. At SCPA,
she wanted to take the men's ballet class instead of the girls' pointe
"I wanted to work on jumps and more muscular things" she says.
It was a good decision. That muscularity has become a hallmark of her
raw and robust choreography. For Morgan, it has offered a new view of
her dancers as Britt's choreography has unleashed a side of them that is
It's that same anything-is-possible attitude that convinced Margy
Waller, ArtsWave's Vice President for Strategic Communications &
Research, to hire Britt to organize that Fountain Square flash mob two
"I'll never forget watching her the night before the dance," says Waller. "It was one of the most amazing moments."
Picture the scene. Several hundred people packed into the Music Hall
Ballroom who've been rehearsing in small groups for several weeks. This
is their first time together.
"It could have been chaotic," says Waller. "But Heather's enthusiasm and
high energy is so infectious that is makes every person who dances for
her feel wonderfully talented and beautiful. She makes every body look
good. And I do mean "every body" not just "everybody."
None of that surprises Morgan.
"People love to work for Heather," says Morgan. "She's sincere. She's
human. She cares. And on top of all of that, she's gifted . . . She's
Sept. 8-18, 2011
Cincinnati Ballet Center
Mickey Jarson Kaplan
1555 Central Parkway
This season's New Works offers three world premieres commissioned
by Cincinnati Ballet and one regional premiere. In addition to the work
of Heather Britt collaborating with poet Tonya Matthews, it will include
works by the Ballet's resident choreographer Adam Hougland, National
Ballet of Canada's James Kudelka and Principal Ballet Mistress Johanna
Wilt working with Cincinnati composer Rick Sowash.
For details, visit www.cballet.org. The box office is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m .Monday through Friday, (513) 621-5282.